Consider the following scenario. A pediatric nurse feels transferring a little boy to another hospital would further traumatize him and his family, already devastated by a flood, so the nurse speaks up on their behalf. The physician considers the nurse’s argument and agrees. Nurses like these advocate to place the personal needs of individuals and families above hospital routines and bureaucratic red tape.
As direct conduits to patients, nurses have a profound opportunity to propose safer, more effective strategies that can impact the future of their profession and the health care system as a whole. This is especially true as issues continue to impact the industry, including policy reform, universal access, new technologies, and an aging population of baby boomers in need of care.
Nurse professionals need top-notch leadership, problem-solving, and communication skills to succeed in patient advocacy. They can hone these skills through an advanced nursing degree, such as an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
If you are motivated to act as an ally for patients, read on for examples of patient advocacy in nursing, typical ethical issues, and key skills for success as a health care ally.
Patient Advocacy Defined
Advocates are people who speak on behalf of those whose voices aren’t heard. They work with decision-makers, such as physicians and legislative bodies, to solve problems and propose alternatives for those in need. For nurses, this may involve advocating for children, mentally ill patients, and patients who are uninformed about health care policies and their own rights.
Patient advocacy is a key part of nursing practice, and it isn’t optional. It’s included in the American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics, which states: “The nurse promotes, advocates for, and protects the rights, health, and safety of the patient.”
The advocacy process has four stages, according to an article in Nursing2019:
1. Evaluate patients’ needs, taking into account their medical backgrounds, personal values, and level of awareness.
2. Identify patients’ goals, including their choice of treatment options.
3. Set an advocacy plan to meet those goals, which may involve working with other members of their health care team.
4. Assess the results of their advocacy, taking into account the satisfaction of the patient, family, and team.
Common Types of Advocacy
Examples of patient advocacy in nursing include:
Advocacy with the Medical Facility
Nurses can act as mediators between patients and doctors who may have overlooked certain patient needs or solutions. For example, if a patient receives an inaccurate diagnosis, unsafe accommodation, or unclear instructions for self-care, the nurse must alert the doctor or medical facility and communicate the issue.
Advocacy with the Legal System
Nurses can advocate for better treatment, legal options, and payment solutions for a patient if they believe that patient is being offered unfair options. They may also propose changes to an established medical process or for an entire group of patients.
Advocacy with Families
Beyond their one-on-one work with patients, nurses can extend their advocacy efforts to forge connections to the patient’s family. For example, if controlling family members are making harmful decisions on behalf of the patient, the nurse has a responsibility to intervene.
The Ethics of Patient Advocacy in Nursing
Ethics is an integral part of building strong advocacy strategies. According to a 2017 paper in Nursing Management, ethics is “the study of moral values and principles of humanitarian duty as they relate to a set of rules that a group or society follows.” Medical professionals, such as nurses, must adhere to certain ethical standards in their jobs. As outlined in the ANA Code of Ethics, nurses need to demonstrate “respect for autonomy, beneficence, fidelity, justice, nonmaleficence, and veracity,” putting the patient’s needs ahead of their own.
For example, nurses must honor patients’ wishes before assuming what is best for them and overriding their choices. This is particularly difficult when nurses help make end-of-life decisions. Nurses must also be willing to challenge higher authorities in defense of the patient’s needs, regardless of how difficult that may be.
Key Skills for Nurse Advocacy
Nurses need essential skills in order to be successful in patient advocacy . Nurse advocates need leadership, negotiating, and decision-making skills to work with medical teams, legal entities, and families in championing the patient. They need to know the laws and regulations impacting health care and patient treatment options. They also need strong communication skills and empathy when working with patients and understanding their unique situations. According to a 2017 paper in Nursing Management, key characteristics of ethical leaders include courage, compassion, and trust in their intuition.
The more education nurses obtain, the more skills such as these are refined. Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing program and curriculum can help students develop and strengthen the skills needed to be leaders in the nursing profession, empowering them to advocate for patients and communities in need. Students can choose from five nurse practitioner areas: family nurse practitioner (FNP), pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP), and adult-geriatric nurse practitioner (AGNP). Students can build a knowledge base of medical practice and policy and learn how to drive positive change in their fields.
Become a Nurse Advocate for Patients
Nurses are needed now more than ever to help patients navigate the complex, growing health care industry. Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing program can help students build skills to become powerful patient advocates. Ranked one of the 50 Best Online Master of Science in Nursing Programs by Master’s Programs Guide, this program is designed to help graduates become leaders in their careers and influence the future of medicine.
Discover what Regis College has to offer and start building your advanced nursing career today.
American Association of Colleges of Nursing, Nursing Fact Sheet
American Nurses Association, Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements
Gallup, “Nurses Again Outpace Other Professions for Honesty, Ethics”
National Center for Biotechnology Information, “Patient Advocacy from the Clinical Nurses’ Viewpoint: A Qualitative Study”
Nursing Management, “The Ethics/Advocacy Connection”
Nursing2019, “Understanding the Nurse’s Role as a Patient Advocate”
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing